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If it does disappear, that will be a problem, because it's the chief information officer who is best placed to use technology to change business and break down internal organizational barriers.
These and other thought-provoking ideas about the future of IT came from Forrester Research at its CIO Forum held in London this week.
"CIOs are in a unique and potentially powerful position for business transformation," VP and principal analyst Marc Cecere told European IT leaders. "After the strategy phase, 80% of the work and activity falls under the role of the CIO, so a strong role for a CIO is a given."
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But, he cautioned, the CIO needs to "to understand their base of power." By that, Cecere seemed to mean that CIOs need to know how they are perceived by their company -- as an order-taker (a "soldier") or as a more dynamic transformation agent -- and act accordingly.
By the same token, companies need to recognize their CIOs as valuable resources. As an example of what can go wrong if the business dives into IT without some form of internal reality-checker, Cecere shared a war story about a company that got into trouble with a SAP project by not getting enough advice from its own CIO. (The issues, he clarified, were with scaling and security, not the product itself.) Problems that the CIO would have planned for were not considered, leading to major challenges later.
Forrester identified several trends that could profoundly change the way business IT works, including commoditization and consumerization. "There are significant elements of enterprise technology that are commoditizing, or have already commoditized," warned one of the group's research directors, Christopher Mines. Before too long, commoditization could overtake even heartland data center features such as core infrastructure, servers and most enterprise applications, he said.
At the same time, new forms of technology are coming to the fore that are anything but commodity – apps aimed at boosting customer engagement. This is where software becomes the whole organization's "brand," said Mines, key to the company "retaining its differentiating value and visibility among customers and employees."
The collision of the two trends – back-end commoditization accompanied by a rise in IT's value as a way to stand out in the digital landscape -- will mean there still will have to be a CIO, said Mines. This person will "play the role of orchestrator and integrator of external services and service providers" instead of internally building and owning such applications directly, while at the same time directing more front-end, customer-facing work.
As a result, IT pros should expect a future in which they might well end up embedded in the marketing, sales, customer service and manufacturing teams of their organizations. "The skillsets are still there and used to orchestrate those external service providers, but there will be no identifiable or central IT organization," he said. "Our call is that [a central IT department] will be a thing of the past by 2020."